June 16, 2013 12:37 pm

Transcript: Episode 41 June 16

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 41, Season 2

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Host: Tom Clark

Guests: Michael Bliss, Paul Wells, Tasha Kheiriddin, Tony Clement, John Baird

Location: Ottawa

**please check against delivery

Tom Clark:

Welcome to The West Block on this Sunday, June the 16th from a rainy Ottawa.  I’m Tom Clark.

Well coming up on today’s show, the Duffy-PMO scandal turns into a criminal investigation.  So where does this political scandal rank amongst its predecessors?

And it’s a fold court press in Europe as Stephen Harper tries to seal the deal for a free trade agreement.  Our panel weighs in on his performance.

Plus, is the federal government at war with the public service?  Treasury Board President Tony Clement joins us.

But fist, Canadian politics is no stranger to scandals.  There was Sir John A. Macdonald in the Pacific scandal, Mackenzie King and the Beauharnois Hydro project, and more recently Brian Mulroney’s cash dealings with aircraft lobbyist, Karlheinz Schreiber.  Now, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a scandal all of his own which followed him all the way to Europe last week.  So here it is, your weekly West Block Primer:

Story continues below

With the Senate scandal still on the boil in Ottawa, the prime minister boarded his jazzed up jet for a weeklong tour of Europe, hoping perhaps to leave the scandal behind.  No such luck.  First stop, London: his speech to the UK Parliament didn’t distract from his troubles at home.  Even the Speaker of the House of Lords brought it up.

Speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness D’Souza:

“…It is of particular significance to me that both our parliaments have appointed upper chambers.  Today, the Canadian Senate and the House of Lords face difficult questions of reform.”

Tom Clark:

Then it was off to Paris, the scandal still in tow with the RCMP now announcing a criminal investigation into that $90,000 cheque.  All the PMO had to say in Paris was this:

“The prime minister’s office has not been approached by the RCMP.  We would provide any possible assistance if asked.”

And with that, it was off to Dublin for the G8 Summit, but followed every step of the way by that scandal that shows no signs of abating.

Joining me now to put this scandal into some sort of context, historical and otherwise, is the noted historian, Michael Bliss who joins us from Toronto.

Michael awfully good to have you here on the show.

Tom Clark:

Now there’s that old expression that says that we journalists write the first draft of history and that you historians, after some research and reflection, write the next draft. So peer down the road for me a little bit and tell me what is the chapter title going to be in 10, 20, 30 years from now on this current Senate scandal?

Michael Bliss:

How about: The Suicide of the Senate? Which I think emphasizes how very serious this scandal is, and is going to be. I think that the senators have really done it, that it’s not going to go away, it’s going to haunt and torture the government.  I think that the very existence of the Senate now will become an election issue, and I’m not sure that the government can avoid itself having to decide to abolish the Senate. The evidence is this. For example, consider the attack ads the opposition parties will be able to mount in the next election on the recalcitrant senators. Or consider the problem – the prime minister has in ever trying to appoint another senator. What self-respecting Canadian would accept an appointment to the Senate of Canada? That’s how serious it is.

Tom Clark:
Again, in context and perspective, where does this fit, when you have a chief of staff, former chief of staff, being investigated by the RCMP, where are we on that chart, on that Canadian chart of scandals?

Michael Bliss:

Well, that’s Chapter 2: The Problem of the Prime Minister’s Office. And you might, the government would love to be able to just slough it off onto the Senate but of course the problem of what Nigel Wright did or did not do is central and pretty unusual in Canadian history, that the Prime Minister’s Office would be involved in very strange transactions. And it’s one of these Catch 22 situations, of course, for the prime minister. If he knew, that’s really terrible. But if he didn’t know, his office was operating without proper oversight. And so it’s a sort of no-win situation for the government and that means that it’s almost impossible to put it behind them. And it will drip away, like water torture.

Tom Clark:

In this case, the amount of money seems ridiculously low compared to even current scandals or even past scandals. $90,000. And yet, for some reason, it seems to resonate with Canadians. Why is that?

Michael Bliss:

Well first, the money is trivial. The Ontario Liberals have squandered 6,000 times as much money on their gas plants. The money doesn’t matter. What’s important is that it raises key principles. One principle is the rule of law, and will the law be applied equally. This scandal resonates so much with the public because ordinary Canadians understand that if they fiddle with their accounts with their employers, and steal money, they’re not just allowed to give it back and be forgiven. There’s a real question of how the law is applied to people in Ottawa as opposed to ordinary Canadians. The second, hugely important ethical principle is of course integrity right at the heart of the government. And that’s where the Prime Minister’s Office comes in because a clandestine payment of $90,000, whether or not the Mounties find something criminal, is clearly ethically very, very suspect. And you can’t have this going on in the Office of the Prime Minister of your country.

Tom Clark:

Let me bring it back to where we started and your contention that this is really the beginning of the end of the Senate. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have said we’ve got a problem here, because if we want to change it or abolish it, we have to re-open up the Constitution, and there’s no political appetite in this day and age to do that. So how, and again, with the context of history around this, how do you then overcome that singular problem?

Michael Bliss:

Well, you’ve got to stop saying we can’t open the Constitution. Of course you can open the Constitution. The government can bring in a resolution, a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Senate. It has to get a lot of provinces on side, but if I were Mr. Harper, I would take that risk, because he would at least be on the side of getting rid of these people. And if some province wants to go to bat for the Senate of Canada, well, then they can take the heat for that. But I would say the right thing to do is to bring in the amendment and then dare people to oppose it.

Tom Clark:

Michael Bliss, joining me from Toronto, terrific discussion. I appreciate your time this morning.

Michael Bliss:

My pleasure, Tom.

Tom Clark:

And coming up, Stephen Harper goes to Europe but what if any souvenirs will he bring back for Canadians?

Break

Tom Clark:

Welcome back.  Well the scandals at home and the challenges facing the EU trade deal are putting the prime minister’s leadership to the test.  So how’s he doing so far? Joining me now to discuss that in Ottawa is Paul Wells of Maclean’s Magazine and the author of the upcoming book on Stephen Harper: The Longer I am Prime Minister.  And in Toronto, Tasha Kheiriddin, a columnist for the National Post and for iPolitics.  Welcome to you both.

I want to start with what didn’t happen on the European trip and that of course is the free trade deal, something that if it had happened might have had us talking about something else other than the Senate for a little while but it didn’t happen.  So Tasha, is this a negative for the prime minister at this point?

Tasha Kheiriddin:

Well nobody expected Tom that the deal would be inked this week or during the G8.  It’s been four years though that this has been going on, the negotiations.  So in that sense, yes, things are dragging.  It would have been a coup for the prime minister to be on the world stage with a signed treaty but I think that it may not even be enough to distract from what’s happening at home.  I think Mr. Harper has to really flesh out a new agenda and they will probably be doing that this fall, in September, with a throne speech but I think that the EU trade deal what it would have done is sort of get us to a next step in the sense of cementing his ability to secure large deals in advance of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership so it could have been a step to that.  But all in all, I think if they do sign a deal by the end of June which many people are expecting or the beginning of July, you know it will help him but it won’t be enough to get over the hurdles he’s facing now.

Tom Clark:

Paul you know, in the world of negotiations though are we in sort of a weakened position because the Europeans know that Stephen Harper is wounded politically at home, needs the type of win that Tasha was just talking about.  Does this change the equation on the negotiating table do you think?

Paul Wells:
Well and there’s another factor which is that the Europeans are now essentially negotiating through us with the Americans.  So France’s concerns about their cultural sovereignty and the worry that Hollywood film making will swamp the domestic French cinema industry has now become a concern in their negotiations with us about our trade deal because we waited so long because Harper has never had an autonomous trade minister or a powerful inter-governmental affairs minister to haul the provinces into line.  We’re now essentially an afterthought in another trade deal.  We don’t even get to negotiate our own deal.  The Europeans are increasingly frustrated.  I spoke to one European diplomat whose term in Ottawa runs out at the end of the summer and had hoped to cap it with news of this trade deal and now figures he’s going home empty handed.

Tom Clark:

You know Tasha, it’s interesting, Paul brings up the trade agenda of the government, I mean in a way it is true that a lot of the foreign investment protocols that we’ve signed for example with China.  None of them have been ratified so far but is the big problem for Stephen Harper the provinces?  I mean in a country like this you’ve got to get them buying in as well.  I mean they’ve got in a sense 10 vetoes out there.

Tasha Kheiriddin:

Well it is.  It’s also the fact that there are some industry issues.  I mean the main stumbling block right now is you could say, “Where’s the beef?”  Because that’s the big issue on the table between the Europeans and us and the Europeans of course are scared that if they increase the ability of Canada to export beef then the Americans will ask for even a much greater quota and that’s going to put their industry in peril.  So you’ve got industry groups as well as the provinces that are very concerned here.  I think also that what Mr. Harper is facing is a sense, not so much of his leadership being in question but the fact like you said that he’s inked deals with smaller nations; others have not been done yet.  The trade agenda is supposed to be a big priority but he hasn’t capped it off with a big win yet.  And again, like I said, the real big win eventually would be the TPP and negotiations with Asian countries but this is a step towards that.  And if he doesn’t get it by the end of the summer, I think yes, that would definitely be a problem.

Tom Clark:

Okay, Paul, let’s bring this home now.  In two weeks from now, Stephen Harper’s going to be walking into a convention hall in Calgary of the Conservative party.  Is he going to be walking into a room full of Brent Rathgeber’s, Conservatives who are really angry about what’s go on or do you figure that the party is going to circle the wagons and defend the wounded leader?

Paul Wells:

Well the good news is that almost all the bad trouble that Harper has had in calendar 2013 has been tension over things that have happened in Parliament and things are about to stop happening in Parliament for a while.  So he’s not likely to be losing members from his caucus when his caucus isn’t sitting.  But this is a crucial convention for him to some people’s surprise.  He’s had bi-annual conventions right through since he became the leader of the Conservative party, they haven’t mattered much.  But this one was always supposed to kick off the reset for the second half of the majority mandate.  I am told that he’s been working on his speech for several weeks already, that it’s meant to be a showstopper to explain once again to the faithful the case for why he ever wanted to be prime minister in the first place, why he wanted the majority and what he has to show for it so far.  And if it works, then great, and if not, then he has to look around for another reset later.

Tom Clark:

Tasha?

Tasha Kheiriddin:

Well I think that he will definitely be trying to push the reset.  The speech is going to be very, very important.  I think even more important than necessarily the speech itself because he’s not known for delivering barn burners, let’s face it, will be the ability to massage the backbenchers in the hospitality suites and the other things will be happening around the convention itself to come out with a unified spirit and also control what happens in the sessions and discussions and not let things get out of hand because his problem, Paul I agree with you, is in the House but the backbench is very restless and the base is upset too so he has to ensure that this convention is a unifying situation moving forward.  And pressing the reset I think like I said, will also happen in September with a throne speech when the House if back.  That’s going to be I think the real point where he’ll set a new agenda for the second half of his term and try and put those troubles behind him.

Tom Clark:

Paul, just quickly before we go I’ve got 30 seconds left.  One of the so-called channel changers this week has been this issue of Justin Trudeau taking $20,000 from a charity.  One of the charity members wants it back.  Is this a big deal or is this going to go away?  Is this going to hurt Justin Trudeau?

Paul Wells:

A lot of Canadians don’t understand why a sitting MP who is well paid has a moonlighting job and that’s going to be a continuing problem for Justin Trudeau.  I have to say to that charity that’s asking for its money back, good luck ever booking another speaker.

Tom Clark:

Okay, Paul Wells, Maclean’s Magazine.  Tasha Kheiriddin, columnist for the National Post and iPolitics. Thanks very much both of you for being here today, I appreciate it.

Well coming up on The West Block, why is the Foreign Service picketing Harper’s trip in Europe. Tony Clement joins us next.  Stay tuned.

Break

Tom Clark:

Welcome back to The West Block.  Well you may have missed it but last week was Public Service week in Canada.  It was a pretty low key affair because the public servants chose not to participate.

Tom Clark:

Well joining me now to talk about this is Treasury Board president, Tony Clement.  Mr. Clement thanks very much for being here.

Tony Clement:

Nice to be on the show.

Tom Clark:

Let’s talk about the overall relationships that you have with the civil service in this country.  I mean you really do seem to be almost at war with one another.  Why is that?

Tony Clement:

Yeah, I wouldn’t characterize it that way at all.  In fact, a lot of the reforms that I’m pursuing, the government is pursuing are related to making it easier for productive civil servants to do their jobs, to gain the credit when they excel, to help them if they are under performing.  In the case of the sick leave provisions that I announced as part of our bargaining position last week, that’s all about making sure that when public servants are sick that they get the help they need to get back to the job, to be productive, to be well and I think that’s important for the taxpayer but it’s also important for the employee.

Tom Clark:

But at what point does it become counterproductive for the government and the civil service not to be seeing eye to eye on what the mission is?

Tony Clement:

Right, well let’s unpack what you said.  The leadership:  we’re talking about the union leadership?

Tom Clark:

Yeah.

Tony Clement:
There’s also though the rank and file; the people that are actually doing the jobs.  And the feedback that I get every day is that people within the public service are saying you know what, this is right, just on performance and managing performance which I announced a few weeks ago now.  You know let’s step into the shoes of a public servant.  You’re busting your can, you’re working hard for your job, for your career but also for Canada and maybe the person at the workstation next to you is maybe working two hours a day or four hours a day.  Well you know it starts to affect your morale.  You’re saying why am I working so hard if the guy next to me isn’t?  So the whole idea of that is to have very transparent evaluations.

Tom Clark:

Okay, but that leads us to one of the dysfunctional departments if you want and that’s Foreign Affairs.  We’ve got our diplomats essentially on strike around the world.  They’re picketing our embassies at the very time that you’re trying to do some big stuff like European free trade deals and trying to get visas sorted out for the best and brightest to come to this country.  At what point does that become counterproductive and why are the diplomats…why have you and the diplomats not been able to come to a common term?

Tony Clement:

Sure, look I hope that they do come back to the bargaining table.  I tabled what I thought was a fair and reasonable offer.  It certainly was within the pattern of the deals that we’ve been making with other parts of the public service.  But let me tell you Tom, these people are paid well.  These are good jobs.  They get, their salary ranges from $62-122 thousand dollars a year.  You don’t have to do a tag day for them and we offered a fair and reasonable offer.  They get all sorts of benefits aside from their salaries and I think…

Tom Clark:

Well a lot of them have to go to places like Afghanistan too so I mean it’s not exactly a bowl of cherries.

Tony Clement:

So maybe we should be paying for their dry cleaning, I’m not disputing that.  That’s one of the perks they get but at the end of the day we’ve got be, we’ve got to have a fair and reasonable offer which is on pattern with the rest of the public

Tom Clark:

Let me take you to another subject. You have stated that you’re in favour of the idea of MP’s posting all of their expenses online on the Government of Canada website so everybody can see, and in a detailed, way how much you spent for coffee, where you went on that cab ride and that sort of thing.  What’s stopping the Conservative members from doing that as of tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock?

Tony Clement:

Well I think we’ve got to have something that works for all MP’s.  If we’re going to do it, every MP’s got to do it; NDP MP, Liberal MP.  Our position…

Tom Clark:

Why is that…just as a matter of interest, why is that?

Tony Clement:

Well I think it’s you’ve got to be fair and if we’re going to apply something to ourselves it should be applied to all MPs equally and fairly.  It should be similar to what we cabinet ministers do every quarter.  It’s called “proactive disclosure.”  Every expense that I have as a cabinet minister is put online quarterly and people like yourself or common citizens can parse those and have opinions about those but that’s being a cabinet minister.  That’s what you do nowadays.

Tom Clark:

I just want to take the last question here to catch up on that missing or misplaced $3 billion dollars.  What sort of system do we have that allows us to lose track of $3 billion dollars of taxpayers’ money?

Tony Clement:

So we didn’t lose track.  There was a two-track accounting of it.  There was one track which is the public accounts.  They are tabled every year in the House of Commons.  This is about money from 2001 to 2009.  That is there.  It’s public.  It was voted upon in Parliament.

Tom Clark:

So wait a minute, are you telling me that you found the $3 billion dollars?

Tony Clement:

I’m telling you it was never lost.

Tom Clark:

But now you know where every penny went?

Tony Clement:

Parliaments from 2001 to 2009 knew where every penny went because there was that process that was in place for Parliament to be advised on spending.  What Treasury Board decided to do in 2001 in the Liberal government’s time was to have a separate tracking process to aggregate the spending in public safety and security and present it to Treasury Board.  That’s where Treasury Board fell down between 2001 and 2009 but as the Auditor General himself said, no, no it was still being tracked as part of our public accounts to Parliament.

Tom Clark:

Tony Clement, good talking to you.  Thanks very much for coming in.

Tony Clement:

Thank you.

Tom Clark:

Well from domestic affairs to foreign affairs.  In a surprise result, Iranians elected a new slightly more moderate president yesterday.  We caught up with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird before the final results were out, from Paris, and asked him what that means for relations between Iran and Canada.

Here’s just part of that interview:

John Baird:

Well things are very close.  We’ll see what the final result is but one thing Canadians should remember is that only eight people of hundreds who wanted to run for president were allowed to contest the election.  No woman; 51 percent of the population of Iran was allowed to contest the election.  No member of the Opposition was allowed to contest the election so we’ve got to be very mindful.  I mean obviously we’re watching what’s going on with the elections, what’s going on in the street very closely.  If this new president wants to work with a supreme leader who has the real power in that regime and take some steps back on their nuclear program we’d like to see that indication in a matter of days and weeks.  What we’re not prepared to do are wait months and years for a more…dragging our feet and doing everything but take real action to move away from the nuclear option that’s before them.  Listen, we’ve been very patient and the supreme leader was not up for election and they know the west chance.  There is still one last diplomatic chance and we obviously encourage them to take it.

Tom Clark:

And John Baird went on to say as well that Canada has reissued a warning for Canadians travelling to Lebanon as the Syrian conflict spills over those borders and creates a situation that is fluid and could go south in a big hurry.  Well you can watch our full interview with John Baird at http://www.thewestblock.ca.

Now here are just a few others stories we’ve got our eyes on in the week ahead.  Tomorrow, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be at the G8 Leader Summit in Northern Ireland and while there he’ll continue pushing for the elusive trade deal with the EU.

And the House of Commons is scheduled to rise this week for a summer break.  MP’s are expected back here in Ottawa in late September but it could be as late as October.

Also in this week, western premiers will be meeting in Winnipeg for their annual conference.

You can get all the latest information on these and others stories at http://www.globalnews.ca/politics and on Global National with Dawna Friesen.  That is our show for today.  Be sure to join us next Sunday for our very last show of the season. Until then, have a great week.  I’m Tom Clark.

© Shaw Media, 2013

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